Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Trump’s G.O.P. Is a Confederacy of Fakers (Thomas L. Friedman column, The New York Times)

Is our TRUMP-loving GQP is a clear and present danger to our collective security, NATO, and the Rule of Law?  You tell me.  From The New York Times:


Trump’s G.O.P. Is a Confederacy of Fakers

Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham in front of several American flags in January 2023.
Credit...Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham in front of several American flags in January 2023.

Opinion Columnist

I’ve got a suggestion for the next Trump-G.O.P. fund-raising scheme. You know how sports memorabilia stores sometimes sell basketballs autographed by an entire N.B.A. team? Well, I was imagining that Donald Trump could sell white flags at $1,000 a pop that say, “We surrendered Ukraine to Russia,” autographed by him and the House and Senate MAGA sycophants he’s assembled to deny Ukrainians the weapons they need to stave off Vladimir Putin’s onslaught.

For an extra $500, you could get a white flag autographed solely by Trump and J.D. Vance and emblazoned with Vance’s immortal words, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” Or one signed by House Speaker Mike Johnson, big enough to sum up his worldview: I was for Ukraine aid until I was against it, but I could be for it again if Trump is not against it. This is a matter of principle for me. Either way, it’s all Biden’s fault.

And then the ultimate collector’s item. For an extra $1,000, a giant white surrender flag, made from the softest Sea Island cotton, signed by Lindsey Graham, that says: “I gave up the principles of John McCain and a free Ukraine because Trump told me to. But I got a round of golf at Trump’s West Palm Beach course. Can I still be on ‘Meet the Press’?”

The last gift comes with a pair of Trump’s new branded tennis shoes, guaranteed by Trump and personally tested by Graham, to be the fastest shoe on the market to run away from any ally or foe — or anything principled that you’ve ever said.

The possibilities are endless, because Trump’s G.O.P. has become bottomless. It now manifests an infinite willingness to engage in any form of crow eating, bootlicking, backtracking and backstabbing to stay in his good graces, no matter how crackpot, selfish or un-American his demand. Trump decides to just dump Ukraine? Bye-bye, Zelensky. Trump decides to toss aside months of bipartisan work to forge a grand bargain on immigration reform? Gone — no questions asked!

I’ve never seen so many people in one party behave with so little respect for themselves or the nation’s interests at one time.

Let’s take a look at Ukraine. I’m not for an endless war in Ukraine. We should always be probing for the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Kyiv and Moscow. This year has shown America and Europe two things: The West cannot and will not just keep pouring money into Ukraine to fund a stalemate, and an outright victory by Ukraine or Russia seems more remote than ever.

But the way to get a decent negotiated settlement is not by cutting off aid to Kyiv cold turkey, the approach that many House Republicans and some Senate colleagues are essentially advocating. That is not only shameful but also strategically insane. The only way to get a deal now or down the road — a deal that is in Ukraine’s interest and in the interest of the West — is by reaffirming our military and economic assistance to Kyiv while doubling down on diplomacy to end the war.

Yes, it’s a tricky business; ending wars always is. There will have to be some hard compromises by both sides. For me, that means, at a minimum, Ukraine comes out of this war with a clear pathway to membership in the European Union. If Ukraine, with its advanced army, giant agricultural breadbasket and flourishing young tech sector, can one day be admitted into the E.U., it makes a whole-and-free Europe closer to becoming a reality and the E.U. much stronger as a player on the world stage — promoting democracy, free markets, pluralism and the rule of law. That’s good for us.

And if the price of that is that Ukraine has to cede some of its Russian-speaking eastern provinces and has to rely for now on informal U.S. and European security guarantees and continued arms — instead of formal NATO membership — we’ll deal with it. Because a Ukraine in the European Union, even without some of its eastern provinces, would become a real powerhouse.

Putin’s Russia, not so much. Putin might be aiming to put a nuclear weapon into space and spending over $100 billion on the Ukraine war, but as his infrastructure on the ground crumbles, more and more Russians are freezing at home this winter.

“Cities are freezing. Who is guilty?” said Boris Nadezhdin, the long-shot presidential candidate who tried running against Putin. The Financial Times recently quoted him as saying, “The huge amounts of money that have been spent and planned for the special military operation could have been invested in improving the quality of life of my fellow citizens.”

No decent deal for Ukraine will be possible if we let Trump and his party just pull the plug on aid to Kyiv now. As my New York Times colleagues in Ukraine reported last week, the Ukrainian Army is now “engaged in a desperate fight to hold back the Russian onslaught. … Across the entire 600-mile-long front, Ukraine is short on ammunition without renewed American military assistance, and it is struggling to replenish its own depleted forces after two years of brutal fighting.”

And have no doubt, if we did just surrender Ukraine, Putin’s next destination could be the Baltic States or Poland. But both are in NATO, which means we are obligated under Article 5 of the NATO treaty to defend them with our own soldiers and treasure. So surrendering Ukraine now could be one of the most expensive things we could do.

As Alexander Gabuev, the director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, recently observed about Putin in The Financial Times: “With no checks on his capacity to make fatal mistakes, an aging Russian ruler surrounded by sycophants may embark on more reckless moves in coming years than anything we’ve seen so far. If the Kremlin believes that no major Western power has the resources and will to fight for minor allies like the Baltic States, it may be tempted to test NATO’s Article 5 commitment to collective defense.” Especially when Trump’s rhetoric “creates a dangerous illusion that America would not intervene if Putin uses military force to divide NATO,” he added.

We are watching two schools of U.S. foreign policy play out over Ukraine. One is the classic U.S. great-power approach, led by a president who grew up in the Cold War and built on a bedrock of American values and interests that have served us well since we entered World War II: We and our allies will negotiate with Putin, but only from a position of strength, not weakness. And our strength derives not just from our money and weapons but also from the fact that Biden has been able to assemble a Western coalition on Ukraine that amplifies our and our allies’ strength tenfold.

Trump, by contrast, often behaves as if he learned his world affairs not at Wharton but by watching World Wrestling Entertainment. So much of what he does is purely performative; it’s about looking strong, about talking tough and about fake body slams, in which everyone is fooled except our rivals.

For example, Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, claiming it was a giveaway by Barack Obama. But he did it with no diplomatic plan to secure a better deal and no strategic plan or allies to confront Iran if it exploited Trump’s move by pushing ahead toward a nuclear bomb. So Iran, which, under Obama, was being kept about a year away from having enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb, is now just a few weeks away. That’s what performative diplomacy gets you.

And that was before our allies had truly gotten to know how little Trump knows or values the Western alliance. A second time around, no one would trust him, so Trump’s “America First” strategy would almost certainly end up an “America Alone” strategy. If you think helping Ukraine is expensive today, try defending America against Russia, China and Iran — all by ourselves.

 am afraid of what this future holds, my fellow Americans, because Trump is a fake, Lindsey Graham is a fake and the G.O.P. has become a cult with no coherent platform other than what side of the bed Trump woke up on, meaning it’s a fake. None of them will fight for anything any longer — other than staying in Trump’s good graces by saying whatever he tells them to say.

They are all trapped in a performative doom loop that has nothing to do with acting on our real interests. It’s only about performing for Trump and for his base to get more clicks, to get more donations, to get more votes, to get elected and then perform again for more clicks. Rinse and repeat — the actual world be damned.

It is all fake. Only our enemies are not fake.

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Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Opinion columnist. He joined the paper in 1981 and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedman  Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 21, 2024, Section A, Page 19 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump’s G.O.P. Is a Confederacy of Fakers

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